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HEY WEBSITE MAKERS, SHAPE UP

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By Steve Yetiv

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The Montréal Review, January 2013

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The other day, when stuck on a website dealing with my research area, global energy security, a thought hit me: am I website challenged--unable to navigate the increasingly complex internet sites on the Wild Wild Web? To see if I was so afflicted, I sent a friend to the same site, and lo and behold, she got stuck too--which made me feel a little better. But I still needed to conduct the ultimate test: yes, of course, put a teenager to the task--you know, the types that look at you like your hopeless when you ask them a computer question. Well, he was a little quicker than I was, but not by a lot. I felt even better! I wasn't an idiot after all.

It seems like almost every other site on the internet has some information that is missing or hidden or doesn't allow you to go back to where you where navigating. These web sites make me wonder if there's a conspiracy by some aliens to play with our earthly minds. But the cause is probably a lot less cosmic.

Strangely, we usually think of web site managers as detailed and efficient. Yet, this may be a false image. Perhaps they're too smart to set up sites for mere computer mortals. Maybe they think that we know what they know and have their navigating skills. Newsflash: We don't. Just like they can't make legal contracts, perform root canals, and rebuild a car engine.

And even if some of these pros are excellent, we now have an explosion of non-pros creating new websites that are popping up like mushrooms. And due to the "24 hour get it now world," we
are now using the internet more than ever, and relying on web sites more. That's not a great recipe for effective internet surfing.

How bad is this problem? Well, it's not climate change but it has certainly arrived and may increasingly threaten people's patience worldwide, pushing their temperatures higher.

Banks, universities--you name it--often take you back to the home page if you make an error in entering information or sometimes even if you don't. It's too easy to let us use the key to go to the previous page. Has this happened to you?

And then there's missing information. I went on my doctor's site to get his phone number. There was no number. There was everything else imaginable, but no number--for that you needed to click another internet site for his office.

I wonder how many of hours are wasted on confounding websites? Zillions? GaZillions? But there's no use in complaining when action is needed--when we need a Moonshot for our web generation.

So what can we do to get through to these faceless website makers?

Well, the Middle East offers inspiration. Yes, I know it sounds dramatic, but it's time for ordinary internet users to revolt. We'll call it the "Website Winter."  Yes, let's send all website makers to boot or boot up camp, if you prefer.

All websites should be put through a test that even an absent minded professor can pass. Yes, I know--a high bar.

Here are a few tips if web site makers want to avoid a revolt:

* Have a youngster test your site--and if they pass, put a professor on there.

* Appreciate that we don't care how fancy the website is nor do we want a
ton of useless information. Give us the basics, at least up front.

* And when we click on the basics, the right site should come up and
if it doesn't, tell us how to go back to the main page. Is that asking too much?

* If your site erases all the information we have plugged in just because we
forgot to put in some minor information or something you don't need
(our telephone number), then kindly fix it.

* If your website requires a password that must include at least one number,
say that in BOLD somewhere--not in fine print. We don't really want to put in five
rejected passwords before we figure out the problem, especially when doing so
makes us a security risk that shuts us out of the site altogether.

Well, that should do it, I think. Forgive me for my polite tantrum. And, march on, all
challenged website users, march on!

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Steve Yetiv is a political science professor at Old Dominion University and the author of The Petroleum Triangle (Cornell University Press, 2011), and The Absence of Grand Strategy (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). He can be contacted at: http://www.odu.edu/~syetiv/

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| FROM THE ARCHIVES |

CAN AMERICA'S OIL BOOM FREE IT OF PERSIAN GULF?

By Steve Yetiv

America is in the midst of an energy boom that has helped decrease its dependence on foreign oil significantly. A recent report by the International Energy Agency even concluded that the United States will displace Saudi Arabia - even if temporarily - as the world's largest oil producer by 2020. Current U.S. oil imports of around 9-10 million barrels/day are projected to fall to around 4 million b/d within one decade... | read |

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